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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Theater/dance department interprets the soul in radio/stage play Hinterland

When you hear the term “radio drama,” your mind may stray to a 1940s block radio with old character voices streaming out of it. UC Davis has a much more visual and modern interpretation of that concept.

The UC Davis department of theater and dance presents Hinterland, a play in two parts, tonight through Saturday at 8 p.m. and additionally on Saturday at 2 p.m. in Wright Hall’s Main Theater.

Artist-in-Residence Lucy Gough, who originally wrote the play in the United Kingdom and later adapted it into a radio drama, is directing the play. Gough will return to her native Wales when the quarter ends.

The plays Hinterland and Mapping the Soul, though separated into two distinct sub-plays, center around one main struggle – the search and definition of the human soul.

As if that were not complicated enough, Gough insisted that the most rewarding way for audiences to experience the play was to not just view it, but to hear it as well.

The play will be broadcast live on KDVS 90.3 FM during the performances. The actors will stand in front of a microphone throughout the whole play, using their voices and very little movement to communicate the story.

“It will be an interesting experience because it’s not just a drama taking place but also a radio drama being created, so you see how the sound effects are created, and its not what they would expect,” Gough said. “There are constantly two things, watching a drama and also seeing how that drama is created. On top of that, the whole debate of the soul going on as well; quite an exercising evening I hope.”

Both plays feature a similar set of characters: Adam, his wife Eve, an 18th century scientist and his assistant, and a soul. Though played by completely different actors in each play, and supplemented by a gang of outrageous characters in the second, this familiarity helps glue the two together.

The characters featured in both plays adhere to essentially the same plot: Adam denies the existence of a soul and finds himself lost and searching for a soul, while the scientist tries to find the exact location of a soul within the brain.

The extensive plot added on top of this basic linear explanation delves into deep metaphysical questions, questions that took a lot of preparation to present in a comprehensive play.

“The long rehearsal process was something I am not used to. I’m used to four weeks or so of rehearsal, in and out,” said Elizabeth Tremaine, who plays one of the assistants. “We spent almost the entire quarter putting this together, finding the pieces that worked, excluding the pieces that did not, and forming the final piece.”

Because Hinterland was originally done on the stage, and Mapping the Soul was written specifically for radio, Gough and the actors have had to create a fluid hybrid between the two pieces, making them cohesive and effective.

“My plan was to combine them when I came here, but they are so tightly within themselves that it didn’t work so I kept them separate, which is better, because it’s so complex. It works better to hear it twice,” Gough said.

Of course, one can see the potential challenges this mission created.

“The hardest part was the static nature of the blocking for a radio play that is going to be viewed by an audience,” Jorge Morejon said, who plays the mysterious soul in Hinterland.  “From where I am, I can’t see anybody and yet I have to interject my lines without any visual or physical cues.”

Beyond working out the performers’ cues and the sound effects, the set design was entirely different hurdle to jump over.

Scenic designer Kourtney Lampedecchio, who’s a first-year graduate student, said, “It was so important to take into consideration how the scenery sounded. Moving anything was a big deal.”

Despite its challenges, the actors and actresses have gotten a lot out of this experience.

“I loved being involved in the artistic process of adapting a work from either a radio or stage play into a hybrid of the two. The rehearsals were an open environment, and I feel that we all contributed to the final product,” Tremaine said.

Director Gough also got something unexpected out of the experience.

“Its been hugely rewarding working with the students and staff here, they’re really hardworking. And to be able to study my work in such detail with everyone has been really enlightening from a director’s point of view,” Gough said.

For Gough, the enlightening aspect of the play is the most important feature of it. Through the adaptation process, Gough was able to express the controversial nature that the soul inspires in people.

“The play is a challenge for the audience. It’s hard work, it demands attention and thought,” Gough said. ” [We are] trying to explore things that are very hard to discuss, and open those a bit.”

The cast rose up to the challenge. Sarah Birdsall, a senior drama major who plays Eve in Mapping the Soul, researched biblical and historical texts in order to prepare for her role.

“The play touches on several subjects, there’s religion, science and love, that you can see in my character,” Birdsall said.

Because of the universal nature of the play’s subject, the soul, Gough has instituted a talk back at the end of every performance, in which the audience as well as the cast will enter into a debate.

Tickets for this highly unusual and thoroughly stimulating performance are on sale now for $12 with student ID card.

BRITTANY PEARLMAN can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.

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